Mississippi Water Walkers

Mississippi Water Walk 2013

Sharon Day has been walking every day since March 1st, through cold and snow, sometimes more than 30 miles each day. Day is an Ojibwe woman from Minnesota and one of five indigenous women currently walking the entire length of the Mississippi River--from the headwaters at Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi Water Walkers are carrying a copper pail of the river’s water all along their journey, planning to pour the clean water into the “dead zone” at the end of the river.

The Water Walkers hope to draw attention to the pollution in the river and educate people along the way about ways they can take action. They set off on March 1st and intend to be at the river’s delta by April 29th (and they’re on track to do so!). You can track their progress (via a GPS device attached to the pail of water) here. Join their Facebook group to get the latest updates, find ways to get involved, or join them on part of their journey!

I called Sharon back in March to get an update on the walk:

Erin Garnaas-Holmes: You are really booking it! Are you moving along faster than planned?

Sharon Day: We were three days ahead about a week ago, but now we’re about even. We still plan to arrive at the gulf around April 28th.

EG: How are your bodies holding up?

SD: Our bodies are doing okay, although we’re a little tired tonight. We have been staying at one of the Walker’s parents’ house and have been entertained by other hosts, which is very nice. The Dakota Memorial Society and the United Warrior Society out of Illinois have been very hospitable.

EG: So you’re keeping up through the cold and snow?

SD: We had anticipated 45 degree weather in Winona, MN, but it snowed there instead. And in Wabasha, and McGregor, and yesterday! There have been some pretty cool temperatures. So far so good, though, and no injuries. We’re just tired of boots. Even when it snows, it is still beautiful walking, looking at the big huge flakes. We feel very privileged.

EG: How are your spirits holding up in the cold?

SD: Good. Most of us didn’t know each other before this, so we’ve been talking about trust and support amongst each other. Lots of laughter, lots of teasing.

EG: Who has walked with you so far?

SD: All along the way people have joined in. On Saturday, three people who were with us for a week went home. On Sunday two more who were with us for four days went back to Duluth. It’s just been the five of us for the past two days. Our hosts from tonight will join us tomorrow. People who have walked with us before will walk with us again, through St. Louis, Oklahoma, Hannibal, Memphis... a woman from Minneapolis and another from the East Coast are flying into Memphis for last two weeks. Lots of people who were with us at the beginning want to fly down to New Orleans at the end. We’re hoping to have 100 walkers at the end.

EG: I know you are walking the Mississippi, but Water Walkers have walked the Great Lakes in the past. How are the journeys different? The same?

SD: I think some is the same. When we walked, last time, from Gulfport, MI, with water from Mississippi, to the Great Lakes, we walked a direct path north, which was very efficient and worked fine. This time, though, we’re hugging the river. It does feel different than bringing water to Lake Superior, where you can always hear the water. You don’t hear the Mississippi so much. Even today, we were far away from the river, and just saw lots of trash in the streams, and dead animals, farther away from the river. Maybe that’s why we’re all so tired. When we are walking right up near the river, though, it feels like we are moving with the river. Or the river is moving with us.

EG: What are you greatest hopes for the Walk?

SD: Our hope is that we will help people to reconnect with the river. Not the river as a mechanism for commerce or a mechanism for just travel or something that you use, but to reconnect with the river as this loving source of life. We want to get people to become aware that the river needs our help. We know that further south where the water is so full of chemicals and “dead zones,” that will be really hard to see. We want people to become aware that the river at the source is pure and clean--only through human intervention does she become what she is before she empties into the gulf. We hope people will pray for the water, tell the water that we love the water, be respectful, and ask her to please forgive us. We want to motivate people to be part of the solution.